Ryan Kingsella ’16 started as the executive director of the Monmouth and Independence Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center at the beginning of the year. The Western Oregon University alumnus is ready to build a stronger connection between the two towns and the university.
A bond already exists, the 28-year-old early childhood education major said. WOU is a chamber member at the platinum level, and a university representative sits on the chamber board of directors. The university participates in a number of community events each year, including Discover MI Town, the Fourth of July parade and Halloween trick or treating.
“Western represents a huge investment in the community,” Kingsella said. “Students are one of the biggest assets we have.”
Kingsella’s new position is focused on promoting area businesses, so it’s no surprise that he’s thinking in terms of how WOU students, faculty and staff members can support local companies with their patronage.
“We want to teach businesses how to maximize their connections with students,” he said. “If students discover a local business as a freshman, that business has a loyal customer for the next four years.”
But the support goes the other way, too, he said. The business community supplies WOU students with internship opportunities or service learning positions. Students have worked with both city governments on projects, as well as partnered with local law enforcement. Just recently, a student provided resources to help police communicate with deaf and hard of hearing citizens.
“We want students to view the chamber as a resource,” Kingsella said. “If they are looking for a volunteer opportunity, we can hook them up with one of our nonprofit members. Or, since we are the visitors center as well, we can help them with the moving process or finding something to do when their parents come to visit.”
Kingsella estimates that about 10 percent of chamber members are nonprofits, encompassing services such as food assistance, friends of libraries, service organizations and tourism boards. Students who want to make a difference in the communities of Monmouth and Independence have plenty of opportunities, he said.
An Independence resident, Kingsella knows firsthand about local partnerships. He made his own start as an entrepreneur by getting involved with area residents and their businesses. After unexpected turn of events during his senior year at WOU, he needed an innovative way to make ends meet for him and his wife, Allison. Because he had a long history with promotions, he launched Genesis Marketing, a company that provides websites, social media messaging and SEO services for small businesses.
Genesis joined the chamber in 2016, and Kingsella eventually applied for the executive director position that had been held by Jean Love for about four years. He said his age has been an asset in the process, not a barrier.
“It just happened that the job requirements matched the skills I’ve gained over the years,” Kingsella said. “Jean built a great foundation for the chamber, and that’s allowed me to take the steps I want to take.”
Kingsella enjoys harnessing momentum and working toward a goal. In 2014, while a student at WOU, he served as a student-veteran liaison during the creation of the Veterans Success Center. He said it was a complicated effort that involved a lot of stakeholders and departments. He credits that experience as being formative in the career evolution that has brought him to the chamber.
Tommy Love, the executive director of Advancement and the WOU Foundation, has represented WOU on the chamber of commerce board of directors for about six years. He said the board is excited to see how Kingsella will move the chamber into the future.
“He has some important skills,” Love said. “We think it’s going to be a great partnership.”
For now, Kingsella expects to strengthen the link between the university and the community. He wants local businesses to have a bigger presence during new student week and at the Internship and Volunteer Fair.
“WOU is unique,” he said. “It’s a small-town college. There’s value in that.”
Learn more about the services that the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center by checking out the agency’s website.
By Marion Barnes